In the near future, your doctor may read the results from your routine blood test and decide to treat you for a disease you don’t even have…yet. For instance, biomarkers lurking in your blood panel might reveal that you are on a collision course with heart failure that may not be detected in the clinic for two more years. This early diagnosis can dramatically change the course of your life and prolong your good health.
That’s the hope for the new Sutter Health Biobank, an integrated bank of blood samples that are linked to long term patient data, which began as a project of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI) and has expanded across Sutter Health. Over time, analyzing this data after it is collected can help researchers find cures for common diseases, like heart disease and cancer, which account for nearly half of all deaths in the U.S. for both men and women.Hal Luft, Ph.D., director of PAMFRI, is deeply involved in the biobanking effort. He is enthusiastic about the possibilities such a resource presents. “Creating this Biobank, linked to the extensive electronic health records of our highly diverse patient population, will markedly accelerate the pace of discovery of new diagnoses and treatments for common diseases,” he says.
With more than 3 million patients throughout Sutter Health, the Biobank will quickly amass hundreds of thousands of samples and be one of the largest in the country. Unlike most biobanks that only collect DNA, this initiative will include additional components such as proteins and other important factors only available in blood.
To build such a large collection of materials, protocols will be established for patients to give consent and volunteer an additional blood sample once a year when they have a lab test done. This serial collection of blood samples from the same patients will allow researchers to evaluate changes in health or disease. With data from electronic health records, researchers will also be able to select patients who have been newly diagnosed with a disease, and then go back to blood samples stored before the diagnosis to look for earlier markers of disease. Very few biobanks have such valuable serial samples.
“To better understand why some people get a disease and others don’t, we need to know as much as possible about them before they got sick,” says Dr. Luft. “Our Biobank involves minimal burdens on patients and, once collected, samples and data can be used for hundreds of different studies. This design will speed both research and getting research findings into practice.”
Philanthropy can help us realize Dr. Luft’s vision, building on the generosity of our community to fuel innovation and research. This $11 million initiative will create a secure, central storage facility featuring a fully automated robotic freezer that can store and rapidly retrieve up to 500,000 biospecimens.
A project of this magnitude relies on the generosity of several kinds of donors: patients willing to donate an extra blood sample; clinicians and researchers devoted to maximizing the potential of the Biobank; and philanthropic partners whose funds will match Sutter’s commitment of $5.5 million to this project. With generous support from donors, the Biobank has the unique ability to not only benefit patients locally, but change the lives of people all over the world.